The Theatre of VR

The Echo Chamber – Notes 07

Producing 360/VR films is predictably very different to creating traditional linear films or TV. The cameras that we’re using to create the drama formally restrict the types of shot that it’s possible for us to get. We’re making a drama with essentially two characters, so the subtle interplay between our actors and the ways that they respond to one another and their environment is particularly important. But VR means no close ups, and no longs shots because the closer you are the more the image distorts and the further way you are the less you’re going to see. Mid shots work best, so we’re making those work as hard as we can.

Glen Travis
Director Glen Travis

Similarly the much discussed, ‘what happens if they look the wrong way’ comes into play as well. We can only effectively guarantee where the viewer will be looking once per ‘act’. When a new ‘scene’ or shot comes in we can fix the viewer attention on an object, effectively filling their field of view, before giving them the facility to look, left, right, up, down etc. Audio cues are going to work to drag attention to where we want it, but our director is doing a lot of thinking about how we make these junctions work as hard as possible for the story.

Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty

Interestingly we’ve been referencing theatre production almost more than film and TV in putting this project together. I recently took my daughter to see the really amazing Sleeping Beauty production at Sadlers Wells. In the production the baby and toddler Aurora is brought to life by three black clad puppeteers. The willing suspension of disbelief in the audience is total and we sat there really wanting to believe in what we were seeing. This effect was enhanced when with a classic bit of misdirection the puppet Aurora changed in front of our eyes (expect we were looking the other way) into the real dancer. These totally compelling tricks and techniques drove the story along, charmer the audience and drew real gasps and chuckles.

We’ve been pondering the impact of some of these techniques on our own production. What would it be like is Erin’s neurological decline was represented by figures (invisible to her) hiding objects and adjusting her environment as she tries to navigate a changing reality? We’ve even been thinking about a highly stylised performance style; an almost kabuki like series of actions to represent repetition, habit, practice and then the corresponding disruption and loss of those elements in someone with dementia.

What we opt for will remain a bit of a mystery for now, but it’s interesting that in making this experimental ‘film’ we’re being inspired by and drawn back to the staging and formal techniques and skills of the theatre world.